While working on the Coffee with your (Insert Generation) Pastor series, I unpacked a little generational background information and a few conversation touch points that came out of my own research for your consideration.
If you have not read them, you can find my posts about pastors who are Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation-X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials (born 1981-1996) on our blog. You can also download my generational research about unchurched Oklahomans here.
I guess it’s pretty obvious that I am fascinated with the topic of generational research. Since about 2005 I have been reading, conducting original research and writing on this topic. I am not sure that I have mastered the topic, but I hope I can provide ministry leaders with insights to help them relate to the people they want to research.
Anyway, while working on the series, I came across some thoughts that didn’t work for the blog posts but could be worth discussing. I want to make some observations about generational trends I see that will impact ministry over the next decade. These are issues that may be factors in the years ahead.
You can be the judge if you think they have value to your ministry.
Retirement. This is probably the biggest generational trend that will impact our convention. Forty-seven percent of Oklahoma Baptist pastors are Boomers who are now looking toward their retirement. The youngest of our Boomer pastors is 56 years old. More than half of our Boomer pastors are aged 66 or older. In a 2019 survey of Oklahoma ministry leaders, it was discovered that 36.7 percent of our pastors say they will be retiring in the next five years. Nearly all of our Boomer pastors say they will be retired by 2030. That’s just nine years away!
Legacy and Second Act. It’s true that Boomers will be entering retirement, but that doesn’t mean they will be going gently into that good night. Forever young, Boomers are going to reinvent themselves as consultants, missionaries, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs and more. Expect the Boomers to continue to engage in the life of the convention, maybe even more than they have in the past. Though it might be poetic justice to marginalize the generation that once said in their youth, “I hope I die before I get old” and “don’t trust anyone over 30,” ignore them at your own risk. Boomers want their legacy to last.
Leadership handoff. Experts say that the greatest transfer of wealth in history will happen over the next two decades. The churches in our convention are at the precipice of a dramatic change as the convention’s resources will also change hands. Beginning now through 2030 we will see a shift of church leadership from the predominance of the Baby Boomer generation to the younger Generation X. The changes over the next few years will need to be understood and addressed proactively and not reactively. Generational researchers say Generation-X may become like a generation of generals in a time of crisis who will be the ones to lead the Millennials to what’s next. Expect the SBC’s Generation-X to reorient the convention in ways that advance the Gospel for the next 70 years.
Open-handed partnerships. Generation-X has never been “brand loyal” or exclusively committed to anything—except maybe the idea of having facial hair. GenX’ers value competence and effectiveness–not personalities, programs and packaging. It is not a given that they will look exclusively within the SBC to help the convention rise to the occasion. Generation-X also have never been fans of traditional institutions because they tend to suspect the competency of the institutions’ leaders. Natural entrepreneurs, they are more likely to initiate new partnerships rather than try to fix old ones. In their youth, Generation-X went out and planted a lot of churches (almost none of them called “Baptist”) and launched many innovative organizations. As GenX takes the lead in the convention, expect to see more of these organizations at the table. Also, since GenX is familiar with working with all kinds of organizations, expect to see the convention open-handedly sharing Kingdom resources with other groups as well.
Nuanced social conversations. Millennials are the most diverse generation. In fact, they take diversity for granted. The current discussions of race and social issues feel too politicized to them. They are not partisan in their politics; their views have been formed not in rhetoric and debate, but rather in conversations with friends who are different than them. In the future as leaders, biblically faithful Millennials will have the ability to navigate the tense conversations that are happening now with more nuance and credibility. In their time, at long last, SBC diversity will be realized as Millennials continue take leadership in our churches and organizations throughout our convention.
A smaller convention. Millennials will inherit a smaller convention if trends don’t change. It is well documented that the younger generations are less likely to be involved in church. Current church leaders have sought to reach this generation with limited results. More missional thinking is needed if churches are going to reach them. One reason for the lack of success is because, still to this day, most churches are optimized to meet the needs and expectations of the Boomers. Boomers are the ones who made the SBC a large convention. I wrote about this in 2014 in my blog What happened to the Southern Baptist Convention?, that the history of the SBC parallels the life stages of the Boomer generation. The Millennial generation is the most educated generation, expect them to apply some new multi-culturally-friendly ministry methods that are effective in more intimate ministry settings.